Drawing Time: Linear Time

The experiments of Muybridge and Marey were undeniably of the greatest importance to the development of cinema. Jeffrey describes the ‘controlled aspect’ of the scientific experimentation of Muybridge and Marey as the aspect that links Animal locomotion (the publication by Muybridge in 1887) to Modernism as it was conceived in the 1920: ‘an aesthetic of control and management in which humanity, marshalled by designers, rehearses for a utopian destiny’ (Jeffrey, 61)

In Death 24x a Second Laura Mulvey discusses the development of a ‘horizontal structure’ of narrative (Mulvey, 28); bringing time into the manageable structure of a recognisable movement from past to future. Mary Ann Doane in The Emergence of Cinematic Time, Modernity, Contingency, the Archive suggests that emerging cinema played a crucial role in structuring time in response to capitalist modernity (Doane, 4) She draws parallels between the ‘representability’ of time through the work of Marey and Muybridge and the reconceptualization of time by modernity:
‘Modernity was perceived as temporal demand’ and the example of the diffusion of twelve million pocket watches through Germany, which at the time had a population of twelve million people, is an illustration of the obsession in western Europe with a punctual, impersonal time which would from then onwards be governed by productivity. 

In an agrarian society, a worker may have obeyed ‘natural time’ according to how he/she worked - time was passed without urgency. In an industrialized society, a worker is exchanging labour for money, rather than goods. Here his/her time is measured according to efficiency and as a result, time becomes abstracted; broken down into measurable units that can be exchanged for money. This is the commodity value, created by Marx to describe the abstracted system of exchange of labour and goods for money within Capitalist society. The need to deliver goods lead to the standardisation of railway timetables, forced the necessity of stabilised and ultimately globally standardised time.

The introduction of new technology brought about a need for a new response to time; one that reflected the new value it held as a measure of labour, efficiency and productivity. It was not simply that Time needed to be standardised to facilitate the transportation of goods, or the coordination of labour. Time needed to be visualised as constituting individual parts that could be reconstituted into an illusion of continuous movement that allowed the viewer to believe in the possibility of capturing Time.  The cinema offered the possibility of recording Time, allowing travel to other spaces and times with a safe return (Doane, 3) 

The new ability to visualize time using moving images brought about a change from thinking about Time as that which is passing and gone, to that which it is possible to preserve, revisit and study.  The use of photography to investigate the efficiency of workers by the Gilbreths is a commonly cited example of the use of static and moving images to picture the body of the worker and use the created material (e.g. the lines created by moving light points) to create working environments that heightened efficiency. 

From The Instant Garden Series, 2008

From The Instant Garden Series, 2008


Green, D (ed.)

Where is the Photograph? Photoworks/Photoforum, 2003

Gallassi, Peter

Before Painting, MOMA, NY 1981

Jim Flemming & Peter Lamborn Wilson (Ed.)

The Electronic Disturbance Autonomedia new Autonomy Series, 1994

Harvey, David

The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Conditions of Cultural Change 1990 Blackwell, Oxford

Trachtenburg, Alan (Ed.)

Classic Essays on Photography 1980 Leete’s Island Books Inc

Green, David and Peter Seddon  (Ed)

History Painting Reassessed 2000 Manchester University Press

Braun, Marta

Picturing Time: the Work of Etienne-Jules Marey 1830-1904 1992 University of Chicago

Bauman, Zygmunt

Postmodernity and its Discontents 1997 Polity Press

Campany, David (ed)

The Cinematic: Documents of Contemporary Art Whitechapel Ventures Ltd, 2007

Doane, Mary Anne

The Emergence of Cinematic Time, Modernity, Contingency, the Archive 2002 Harvard University Press

 David Green and Joanna Lowry (ed)

Stillness and Time: Photography and The Moving Image, 2006 Photoworks and Photoforum

Graham Gussin & Ele Carpenter

Nothing 2001 August and NGCA

Jeffrey, Ian Revisions; an Alternative History of Photography 1999 National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, Bradford

Jussim, Estelle

The Eternal Moment: Essays on the Photographic Image 1989 Aperture

Mulvey, Laura

Death 24 x a Second Reaktion Books Ltd, London 2006

Drawing Time: Perspective

“The universe is an aggregate of non-simultaneous and only partially overlapping events” 

- Estelle Jussim,(51)

In Before Photography Peter Gallassi discusses the social context of the invention of photography.  Although all the technology to produce photography was present before the eighteenth century, it was the large amount of what he describes as ‘Speculative tinkering’ that spawned the photograph as we know it.(Gallassi, 11)

From The Instant Garden Series, 2009

From The Instant Garden Series, 2009

The camera, as a tool was creating a new standard of pictorial logic, offering the possibility of automatically producing perfect perspective which was in itself the product of a tradition of Western pictorial tradition. Describing the ‘four-hundred-odd years of perspective’s hegemony over Western painting (ibid.13) he says that the differences in the use of perspective form a ‘coherent history’ in the way that painters conceived the role of vision in art. This history he describes as a ‘complex but continuous development of the normative visual scheme’ (Ibid.14) based upon the development of pictorial tools. 

In The Ontology of the Photographic Image, Andre Bazin describes perspective as the ‘original sin’ of Western painting, leading to a quandary between aesthetics and representation; the former a spiritual reality, the latter a psychological need (The Camera Viewed, Vol 2, p.142). Perspective, says Bazin, did not solve the problem of movement and realism was ‘forced to continue the search for some way of giving dramatic expression to the moment’.

Photography’s disruption to this history is discussed by Joanna Lowry in her essay, ‘History, allegory, technologies of Vision’ (History Painting Reassessed, ed. David Green)  Referring to an essay by Jeff Wall on the work of Manet, Lowry discusses Wall’s theory of “an increasingly alienated relationship between bodies and the space they inhabit” produced as a result of the fragmentation of the individual subject under the laws of capitalism. 

Wall’s argument is that the emergence of modern industrial society resulted in the commodification of the body through the new systems of industrial capitalism. In addition, the emergence of photography was a threat to painting as it “revealed it’s own technical presence within the concept of the picture” (Wall) which had hitherto been conceived as internally structured using perspective. Wall argues that the transgressive fragmentation of the laws of classical perspective in Manet’s paintings shows a recognition that this previously unquestioned structure was under threat. 

In Revisions, Ian Jeffrey discusses the change of perspective that took place in the Modernist Era where technological advances lead to changing attitudes and ways of visualizing space. He says, ‘An apple or an orange in 1907 was something in essence desirable and edible; whereas in the 1920s and increasingly into the thirties, it featured in ‘Modernist’ art as a moveable item in an arrangement’ (Jeffrey, 88). Jeffrey explains this change in attitude to a different way of thinking: Modernists, he suggests, thought in terms of ‘room space’, not the ‘deep space’ of the Renaissance, and more shallow than the proscenium arch. The influence of photography was to introduce a ‘scene’ with moveable parts, with any number of productions and performances. He suggest that this new ‘relativism’ came out of an acceptance of the theory of relativity. 

Drawing and Time:Notes on Time and Photography

The Instant Garden, 2009

The Instant Garden, 2009

From the beginning of the medium, photographers recorded moments in time, as well as images of people and places. An examination of the history of photography reveals how representation of movement and perspective lead to a new conceptualisation of Time through photography. Below is a survey of some of the key texts in Photographic Theory, along with others by philosophers on how our concept of Time changed with the development of photographic visual language. 

1. Movement


In the mid Nineteenth century, the first and second laws of thermodynamics created a new backdrop for understanding the body; the discovery of energy as indestructible changed the view of nature from static to dynamic and energetic. The discoveries of electricity and electromagnetism created a new view of the body as a field of energies...read more


2. Perspective

In Before Photography Peter Gallassi discusses the social context of the invention of photography.  Although all the technology to produce photography was present before the eighteenth century, it was the large amount of what he describes as ‘Speculative tinkering’ that spawned the photograph as we know it...read more

3. Linear Time


The experiments of Muybridge and Marey were undeniably of the greatest importance to the development of cinema. Jeffrey describes the ‘controlled aspect’ of the scientific experimentation of Muybridge and Marey as the aspect that links Animal locomotion (the publication by Muybridge in 1887) to Modernism as it was conceived in the 1920: ‘an aesthetic of control and management in which humanity, marshalled by designers, rehearses for a utopian destiny’...read more

4. Time as Illusion

In Death 24 x a Second, Laura Mulvey describes the new secular materialism that grew out of the Enlightenment project, created a new entertainment industry in illusions and uncanny experiences; a ‘new mechanical uncanny’ (40) creating. The history of illusion is a history of producing this effect.; an ‘instantaneous encounter’ with something the mind cannot explain, which exploits our repressed fear of the dead…

Bullet Time and Cyclical Time: the eternal moment in recent photographic practice.

Introduction: Emergency Numbers

Google Screen grab

Google Screen grab


The events of September 11th2001 in New York unveiled the true extent to which moving and still image have come to shape our perception of reality.At 8.45 am a hijacked passenger jet, American Airlines Flight 11 out of Boston, Massachusetts, crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Centre. Immediately in Jersey, Battery Park City, Soho, and China town amateurs pulled out video cameras, digital still cameras and mobile phones to diligently capture content. Within twenty minutes, professional news stations had set up a live feed and footage of the fire in the first tower was broadcast via satellite to news stations across the world.

Within minutes of these images broadcasting millions of people were watching as a second plane appeared within the frame. Without explanation or warning the plane made a sharp turn and headed towards the second tower. Millions of spectators collectively jumped as the second tower was hit. 

As the flames raged, cameras zoomed in to capture the desperate many leaping to their deaths. As the firemen ran with hoses up the stairs, the towers were visualised and enhanced from every angle. Then the towers fell and each individual watching realised they had witnessed perhaps the most politically consequential moment in their lifetime. This moment would be written about so many times in so many places it came to be abbreviated into numbers: 9/11 a numeric dial code reserved for emergency. 

While the world reeled from the dizzying implications of this event, a different kind of ‘reeling’ was taking place in editing rooms across the world. The numbered frames were cut, frozen and slowed for re-examination. Reversing, forwarding in half speed: the plane hitting, the people jumping, the towers falling. Amateur footage flooded in: better angles, a new view, more editing. Quickly the collage of history was assembled and fed back to the audience, hungry for explanation and answers. Did it really happen? Yes it did….here it is again. 

“If the Real is disappearing, it is not because of a lack of it – on the contrary, there is too much of it. It is the excess of reality that puts an end to reality, just as the excess of information puts and end to information, or the excess of communication puts an end to communication.”

[1]Written one year before the events described above, Baurillard suggests that in an ‘image world’, the world of the ‘simulacra’, the Real[2]is in the process of disappearing in the process of virtualisation. Photography is deeply implicated in this ‘excess’ and ‘end’ of reality that Baudrillard describes.  

The camera, with its technical ability to capture a moment, has always been linked to both the subject (through indexicality) and time (through the instantaneous moment of its creation). The subject is framed and caught: a moment in time, a singular perspective:

“Painting can feign reality without having ever seen it. Discourse combines signs which have referents, of course, but these referents can be and are most often “chimeras”. Contrary to these imitations, in Photography I can never deny that the thing has been there.”


In Camera Lucida, Barthes suggested that the very nature of photography was its ability to represent something that ‘had been there’. Our contemporary experience of still images has shifted from this classic modernist concept to a very different understanding of photography and, by association, time and history. In visual reportage, the ‘history making’ machine of documentary film and stills, many of the recognisable features of photography from the past one hundred and fifty years have recently changed. 

Stills are captured from moving images taken at the scene turning the crucial decision of what moment to “take” into an editorial decision made in the newsroom by a producer, rather than the photographer in the field. Even if the camera is recording on (chemical) film the ‘taker’ is removed in time and space from the event. Sequences can be paused, reversed and cut into stills. A ‘realtime’ recorded event can be turned into a film cadaver – to be dissected, examined, replayed and analysed within minutes. The burden of ‘truth’ is passed from photographer at the scene, to an editor elsewhere at a safe distance. 

If moving images can be halted, still images can be animated. The position of the camera is no longer guaranteed a singular location: the wide distribution of cameras and the possibilities afforded by software able to “stitch” images together means our experience of the ‘still’ now incorporates the experience of one moment, seen from every angle.[4] This ‘Time-slice’ of the photographic moment allows the viewer unrestricted access to areas previously excluded from the frame. Individual frames are animated to simulate a 360º circumference of one instant. This technology and others, lead us to conclude that the ‘decisive moment’ is a historical concept, contingent upon the technological limitations of a film-based era, now past.

The boundary between moving and still images has blurred. Advances in audio visual technology mean that moving images, once the province of darkened theatres, collective consumption with strict schedules, under the control of TV or film programmers, are now available in a much more malleable form on the computer and mobile phone. 

The sophistication of software means that almost anything can be created out of code. Digital Imaging has challenged the ‘indexical’ link between the photographic image and the world, making ‘photography’ a style of image, a version of itself in digital form.

“The aesthetic of the digital still thinks with the idea of the index”


Just as the door of a fibre-glass car may shut with the same reassuring thud as a door of steel through the clever use of sound mechanics, so the digital camera clicks and whirs.  

The wide distribution of digital cameras through mobile phone technology coupled with the rise of citizen journalism and web sharing of pictures means that historical events, once documented by a few professional photographers are now open to multiple perspectives. Not only is the act of taking pictures democratised; the process of global image distribution via the web has decentred traditional channels of information. This would be a happy outcome, were it not that alongside this egalitarian return to photography’s amateur roots is an exponential rise in triviality associated with photography, most prominently visible in the large quantities of images of celebrities on newsstands and websites. 

Photography was already ubiquitous, now it is utterly disposable making up a large part of the huge flotilla of stimulating detritus floating in our sphere of consciousness. This profusion of moving and still images results in massive global databases archives of news agencies even nuclear bunkers.[6] This burden of historical evidence has presses on contemporary photographic practice: every new image adding extra weight to the growing mountain. 

In this essay I will look at how two artists address the issue of this photographic ‘inheritance’ to create works that revitalise discussions over the relationships between mediums and traditions. Both Jeff Wall and Tim McMillan address issues around the representation of time and history in their work. Using innovative techniques that quote or appropriate the language of drama, documentary and history painting, they offer an interesting comparison. 

‘Dead Horse’ by Tim McMillan played a role in the creation of the ‘Time-Slice’, or ‘temps mort’ technique popularised by the famous ‘bullet time’ sequence in the Wachowski brothers’ ‘The Matrix’[7] where one moment is captured simultaneously from multiple viewpoints and subsequently ‘stitched’ back together to create an effect of 360º vision. ‘Restoration’ by Jeff Wall is, conversely an attempt to capture a 360º panoramic painting using a panoramic camera and digital imaging. Wall creates a tableau of multiple meanings, times and narratives. Both pieces offer new perspectives on the ’decisive moment’, the relationship of photography to ‘the real’ and the possibilities for photography’s trajectory in the coming decades....

Download the rest of the essay here

[1] Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion (Columbia University Press, 2000) 65- 66

[2] Described by Baudrillard as based on the principle of having an origin, and end, a past and a future. The Vital Illusion 63

[3] Roland Barthes, from Camera Lucida, quoted by Nancy Shawcross in Roland Barthes on Photography (1997) 94

[4] This technique can be seen observed watching an important game of football. Here the suspected foul, the failed goal attempt is digitally reconstructed using Time Slice technology and software. Using cameras placed strategically around the goal areas, the player is rendered in 3D and viewers have the illusion of spinning around within the moment examining every angle of the players’ expression, position, and gesture.

[5] Laura Mulvey, Death 24 x a Second (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2006) 21

[6] Reuters hope to hold the largest ‘post nuclear’ collection of photographic imagery in their nuclear bunker. One can only wonder who might argue the point after the event.

[7] See Appendix: The Matrix